Thursday, 30 July 2015

Reflections on Florida

I am coming to the end of a hectic fortnight's family holiday in Florida. I ought to start by saying that I once travelled fairly regularly back and forth to the States as I worked for our North American division, although that was between 1997 and 2002. My last visit was actually ten years ago on a skiing trip to Beaver Creek in Colorado.

So, I found myself back in Florida on holiday for the first time in twenty years and nearly as many since a flying visit to Fort Myers on business. We have had a fantastic holiday even if the weather hasn't been as good as I expected - rain more prolonged when it arrived and we have had it nearly every day. That hasn't stopped us doing anything and we have been very busy including a day up the east coast at Marineland swimming with dolphins and a night spent in a hotel down at Fort Lauderdale.

I shouldn't be surprised but I have been by the number of hugely overweight Americans there are here. I haven't been able to stop counting them whenever I have seen groups and they consistently account for over 50% of any group. I don't think I would be exaggerating either to say that over half are so big they have have practically no chance of shedding it without surgery. Many of them also wear T shirts with slogans like "does my size threaten you?" and "big is better." A product of the progressively politically correctness regime in the US which is continuously being exported.

Another thing that has surprised me, is that it is nearly impossible to eat anything healthy here unless you prepare it yourself. I had assumed that the same PC regime would by now have us at least getting options everywhere and that we would be inundated with calorie counts, low sodium figures as well as shouts for fruit n veg (I know New Yorkers can be anal/neurotic about this). How wrong was I? Not only do the chain food outlets dominate the highways and theme parks but the food on offer is a consistent selection of burgers, processed cheese, tinned vegetables (if you ask and they have any), chicken and fries. Everywhere you go you are surrounded by sugary soft drinks and the adverts on the radio and TV are dominated by a race-to-the-bottom pricing pitch for high sugar and fat food. Last night we saw a commercial for a new soft drink which manages to blend your favourite flavoured Slushie with your favourite candy, in a calorific gloop. I suppose the dominance of junk food inevitably supports a fat nation although perhaps the market is simply responding to the demands of it's customers?

I have also been surprised by the proliferation of tattoos. I know they have become big business in the UK (I have a few before anyone complains), but it seems that everyone here has at least one and a high percentage are clearly preparing for many more. Perhaps it's the fact that it's so hot and people are wearing less but it's been highly noticeable.

War Veterans have also grown enormously in the public eye since I was last here. Everywhere we have been, 'Veterans' has been a classification for discounts like kids and senior citizens. Bumper stickers and T shirts proclaim which type of veteran you are and I have even seen several 'Korean' vets in addition to all the Iraq, Afghanistan and more recent wars. At Seaworld before the Killer Whale show, they actually asked any veterans from the "United States, Canada, UK or other allied countries" to stand in the audience for a round of applause before the show began. I am not criticising here, I support the initiatives, just saying what I have observed as different from when I last visited.

I am used to having to pay various local taxes when paying for things but I can't remember every one adding up to so many dollars and an inconvenient number of cents. My pockets and bags are full of shrapnel. At home we round everything to include VAT if applicable but I am repeatedly diving into the bag for another note to pay the excess. I bought one of my girls a toy in a Disney store and the price was $36.10. Given the massive mark-up, why not make it $36 or $37 even? I don't recall this from previous visits.

Customer Service has been surprisingly disappointing too. I have strong memories of how good it was nearly everywhere. I have to say that so many of the people we have dealt with haven't seemed bothered and most don't listen or aren't concentrating. Telling people your name and saying you will be taking care of them today isn't enough.Time and again we haven't got what we ordered and I have been asking them to repeat orders deliberately so that nothing's been lost in the accent, and they have still forgotten things or mis-timed it all. Don't get me started on the Hilton Hotel group - I could write at length about how crass that is and how their main interface now replicates Indian call centres and an inability to deal off-script or help a massively dis-satisfied customer. Putting you on hold instead if transferring you to a supervisor was unheard of ten years. I gave up on my third transatlantic mobile call of over twenty minute. I will save the detail for a cathartic session when I get home if I get a spare half-an-hour to write to them at length.

On a more positive note, open Wifi is widely available at public places and the speeds available are impressive too - I was expecting this but good to see and experience. We hear a lot about the UK enjoying the fastest speeds in Europe (I work for BT) but we can't yet get 325mbps which is advertised here. I am wondering what technology is delivering this because we aren't yet exploiting it in Europe and the kit to do it over fibre or copper isn't yet mature.

The road systems continue to work well, drivers stick to speeds limits and are courteous on the whole. The roads handle high volumes of traffic well and the emergency services are quick to respond and keep traffic flowing.

Finally, the all-American bar-and-grill remains a great place to spend a few hours. Multiple screens show Baseball, Nascar, Fishing n Huntin' and some other more obscure American past-times. They serve cold beer and hot food and there is always a welcome around a large U-shaped bar. I am reminded how shabby and unwelcoming so many of our traditional pubs have become. Still, I am looking forward to a few pints of real ale in one when I get back.

No comments: